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Gillets Jaunes: the question of Social Sustainability

Thousands of people have been in the streets of Paris, Brussels and other European cities. The so-called 'gilets jaunes' identify themselves as a grass-root, headless movement against the state of affairs in general, and the 'rich and the elites'. While condemning any sort of violent action carried out during these demonstrations, we must nevertheless understand what is happening behind this movement.

The fact that their main claim, and so far only achievement, has been the derogation of tax on polluting fuels is certainly indicative of the risks of pursuing environmental sustainability at the expense of social sustainability.

During the years of crisis, the economic and financial systems were saved and stabilised out of working people's effort: huge transfers turned private debts into public ones, while cutting social services and protection and easing the dismissal of workers. Now, the common effort needed to minimise climate change seems to follow the same scheme: reduce taxes on the rich, ignore the social partners, and tax the working and middle class.

The dangers of this proposal are more evident than ever. The pro and anti European dichotomy depicted by some political positions jeopardises the green transition and the European project as a whole by pairing it with neo-liberal and elitist policies. It leaves social protection and social rights for the right-wing populists to defend (and to ignore, once in power).

Therefore, the discussion cannot be framed in favour or against Europe, but in defining what Europe do we want. Social, economic, and environmental sustainability can only advance together, meaning a green transition out of a common effort to create also quality jobs and ensuring that no one is left behind.